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How to Handle Criticism on Your Writing

Last week I opened up submissions for beta readers for my debut novel The Elysian Prophecy (if you’re interested and haven’t signed up, do that here). Although I’ve utilized beta readers before, it’s scary putting your work out there for someone to analyze.

If you’re entering the beta reading process, or you’ve received some solicited or unsolicited critiques, it’s difficult to watch someone pick your manuscript apart.

That’s weird, right?

You ask someone for advice and then get angry or upset when they give it to you.

That’s because we’re writers, we’re just weird that way.

No matter how bad a critique hurts, listen to it. You can’t fix something if you don’t know it’s a problem, and critiques help you recognize those problems.

So I have eight tips to help you survive those critiques.

Remember why you asked for advice.

Did any of you ever watch that episode of American Idol when the Asian woman sings “Ken Lee,” more popularly known as “Without You?”

It was awful. It was funny, but it wasn’t good singing. But she didn’t know that did he? She walked in front of those judges with the full thought she was amazing.

If only she had a friend or two that would have told her she was tone deaf. And of course that she was getting the lyrics wrong.

You’re writing a novel so that the world can read your stories, right? You also want to make sure your novel doesn’t tank - because reviews are everything. Get a bad rating and that can seriously damage your novel’s potential right out of the gate.

Focus on improving.

Most professionals in the world are constantly on the lookout for ways to improve their model, no matter their line of work.

As a writer, one of the best ways to improve your writing is through editing. We’re so occupied in creating a story that we sometimes lose sight of how we tell our stories.

This is the stage where someone can look at your work and realize you use too many adverbs (guilty) or your descriptions aren’t as vivid as you intended.

Critiques are a way to improve not only your story, but your future writing as well.

Keep your emotions in check before you get feedback.

Easier said than done, right? Well, that’s life. Talk is easy.

There’s no telling how you’ll feel after you receive feedback, but you can control how you feel before.

You’ll always have a whirlwind of emotions playing in the back of your head with every comment you read, but you don’t have to set yourself up for emotional failure.

Don’t read review comments when you’re already in a bad mood. Did you get into a fender bender on the way home? You won’t be in the right state of mind to take criticism then.

Having the right attitude will help you absorb what your betas are saying, rather than being defensive about every comment.

So drink a cup of tea, chill out for a few minutes and bring out your inner-Ironman (or woman) that can take a hit and stay levelheaded.

Listen to the majority.

It’s important to have as many betas or critique partners as you can stand so you can see trends.

If you get really nasty feedback from one individual about how terrible your character is, see what the other betas think before letting yourself get worked up.

There might be fifteen people who absolutely love that character and that one who just hates him. Get to the bottom of why they hate that character. It could be a preexisting personal bias.

If you completely disagree with what that one person says, get feedback from others on the topic before disregarding. You never know, he or she could have seen something that the others missed.

Maintain professionalism.

No matter the comment, always maintain professionalism. Not only are you the better person for it, but you’re also not a bad person for doing it.

I.e. there’s no paper trail of you bashing someone else on their terrible beta performance, whereby said disgruntled beta can post discussions online for the world to see. No bueno.

If you find yourself typing a fuming reply, STOP. It doesn’t matter how bad you think that person needs it, or how much you think you’d be doing the world a favor, DON’T DO IT.

Write a polite reply to them that you appreciate their feedback. If you really want to tell them to eff off, tell them you thank them for taking the time to read your manuscript, but no longer require their services.

You’re a professional. Don’t let hateful comments turn you into an angry Godzilla. Only nice Godzillas are allowed here.

Pretend you’re someone else.

This is fun! We do this all the time as writers!

When you feel like punches are being thrown and you can’t see anything but red, try to pretend you’re reading someone else's critiques and not your own.

Change the names if they call out characters, change the cities if they’re mentioned. Try to read it as someone who isn’t emotionally attached. Does the feedback make sense? Or is it just a jerk trying to be rude?

You’ll get both, so it’s important to practice identifying who’s being helpful and who’s being a jerk. Try your best to separate yourself enough to tell the difference.

Ask someone you trust.

Most of us have one or a few people whose writing opinion we absolutely trust.

When you receive feedback you’re unsure about, ask that person. They should have thorough knowledge of the story already so they can tell you whether your beta was justified in ripping apart your world’s technology.

They might say something like “Yeah, I didn’t see that before but now that you point it out, you might need to develop the weapons systems and mention something about how they work.” Or you might get, “No, I could envision exactly how it worked. While you didn’t outright explain it, the rest of the world’s technology made it easy to infer. I like how it left some of it up to me to figure out.”

Make sure it’s not a drama-mama though - someone who will immediately side with you and then rave about how horrible the world is. You need someone that’s honest.

You’re not alone.

Why are there so many people who have written articles and blog posts and filmed YouTube videos on this topic?

Because so many people suffer from the self-doubt demon. Receiving criticism can feed that demon (I just watched The Conjuring 2 so demons are on my mind like woah).

That hellspawn creature stands between you and the best version of your novel.

When you’re ever in a dark place, find more videos or posts to read on the topic and know that you’ve got company. You’re not a freak for feeling this way. You’re attached to something real, something you’ve poured hundreds of hours into.

It’s okay to feel these emotions. You’d be a freak if you didn’t care.

Don’t be afraid of those feelings - just don’t let them get in the way. When it’s time to write and edit your novel, focus on doing just that.

Criticism isn’t something to be taken lightly, no matter what area of your life you receive it in. Identifying whether something is constructive will help you to know which comments to ignore. If it doesn’t help your novel in any way, try your best to ignore it.

Stay focused: you’re here to improve and that process hurts a little bit.

How do you get over criticism? Let me know in the comments section below. Let’s help the world get over those self-doubt demons!

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